When tomatoes roll into season, you shut up and take notice, worshipping at their juicy altar like the fruitful gods that they are. Actually, exalting them like this is not far off from how many chefs feel about this summer staple. Tomatoes are a big freaking deal in Chicago restaurants every summer, and during the precious few weeks that they're at their seasonal prime, restaurants go buckwild with the tomato dishes. With so many options to eat around the city, it can be hard to narrow them down to a reasonable amount. So I did the work for you, presenting your official tomato bucket list of 2013. Now get eating.
When you think of tomatoes, you think of frogs' legs, right? Naturally. That's what's happening at Table, Donkey & Stick, where slices of fried green tomatoes adjoin sautéed frogs' legs, bacon jam, pickled garlic, and blueberries. Because why not.
(Frogs' legs at Table, Donkey & Stick)
A couple new dishes at Kabocha Restaurant are putting tomatoes in a bold new light. First there's the tuna and hamachi mosaic (you know dinner's off to a good start when the word "mosaic" gets thrown around) with fried bacon lardons, kabayaki sauce, pickled shallots, sea salt, and slivered grape tomatoes sourced from The Urban Canopy on Chicago's south side. Next, heirloom tomatoes round out an intense plate of charred, sake-braised baby octopus, red watercress, dark sesame-plum wine sauce, and dehydrated ginger.
Tomato soup takes a sexy turn at Hearty Restaurant, where jellied tomato consommé is adorned with Galliano whipped cream and charred yellow tomato-fennel salad. Meanwhile at Brindille, soup goes to finishing school and graduates as valedictorian. It's a chilled tomato soup made with heirloom Michigan tomatoes, but it's no blah gazpacho. The tomatoes are blended with onions, garlic, lovage, smoothed and enriched with olive oil. A drizzle of Banyuls vinegar adds a splash of tartness, and the soup is poured tableside over a salad of tomatoes, lovage, black raspberries, and chrysanthemum petals. It's all finished with a garnish of toast topped with melted Brin d'Amour cheese. This is not your mom's grilled cheese and tomato soup, my friends.
(Jellied tomato consommé at Hearty)
Tomatoes and pizza are nothing novel, but Pizzeria Via Stato and La Madia Restaurant are slinging a couple refreshing renditions worthy of your stomach. At Pizzeria Via Stato, chef David DiGregorio puts heirloom tomatoes front and center, outfitting them with Parmesan, hand-pulled mozzarella, and in a bit of a surprise move, fennel pollen. Over at La Madia, Chef Owner Jonathan Fox also features heirloom tomatoes, opting for arugula pesto and ricotta cheese as his fruity bedfellows.
(Heirloom tomato pizza at La Madia)
Panzanella is one of the quintessential preparations for fresh tomatoes, as the ripe fruits combine perfectly with toasty nuggets of crusty bread, cucumbers, and vinaigrette. Get your panzanella on at Pizzeria Via Stato's sister restaurant, Osteria Via Stato, and at Piccolo Sogno. While at the latter, be sure and partake in a couple other new tomato dishes: a vivifying take on caprese salad made with vine-ripened tomatoes, basil, and imported buffalo mozzarella from Campania, and spinach and potato gnocchi tossed with mixed tomatoes and toasted garlic.
(Panzanella at Osteria Via Stato)
Because his favorite way to enjoy tomatoes is raw, Big Jones' Paul Fehribach is serving up heirloom tomatoes in all their raw glory at the center of a salad plate. Succulent tomato slices are striated with Anson Mills farro verde, Prairie Fruits chèvre, and pickled Beaver Dam peppers.
A miscellany of locally sourced tomatoes comprise the crux of a killer summer salad plate at Benny's Chop House. This stunner of a plate features the likes of beefsteak, oxheart, green zebra, German striper, and chocolate cherry tomatoes, flecked with fleur de sel, black pepper, olive oil, balsamic, micro basil, and cheese curds, because those are always a good idea.
(Tomato salad at Benny's Chop House)
Salad simplicity sings at MANA food bar as well, where heirloom cherry tomatoes are strewn with Amish blue cheese, shallot dressing, and truffle oil.
Tomato salad is also on the newly instated supper menu at Southport Grocery & Cafe. Tomatoes hail from the local market, as well as Southport's very own back patio garden, served with patio-grown basil, carrot top pesto, and sheep's milk feta.
(Tomato salad at Southport Grocery & Cafe)
Cherry and teardrop (aw) tomatoes from Nichols Farm and Green Acres Farm land at Province on a plateful of charred summer onions, basil vinaigrette, and grilled breadcrumbs. It's simple and flavorful, putting tomatoes at the forefront of the plate in all their ripe glory, which is really what tomato season is all about.
How 'bout heirloom tomatoes for dessert? Thanks to the dexterous pastry wunderkind Patrick Fahy at Sixteen, now you can. Fahy starts by removing the skins off cherry tomatoes from Nichols Farm and Leaning Shed Farm, dehydrating the fruits to bring out more sweetness. He does the same with the meaty innards on larger tomatoes. They're cut into strips, and combined with ground cherries two ways (raw and sorbet) and goat milk two ways (cajeta and bavarois), finishing the dessert with some micro mint and mint oil.
(Tomato dessert at Sixteen)